Ric Machuga has distilled thirty years of teaching philosophy at Butte College into a new book with a rather playful title: "Life, the Universe and Everything" ($36 in paperback from Cascade Books). But the book is serious in intent, and not only does it take up the biggest questions of all (what is truth? are humans free? does God exist?) but proceeds to answer them. In a calm, humble, and convincing fashion Machuga shows the implications of some simple commonsense propositions ("plants and animals exist; square circles and other contradictions do not exist; and nothing comes from nothing") have enormous consequences.
These consequences are fleshed out in what the book's subtitle calls "An Aristotelian Philosophy for a Scientific Age." Though no physicist or biologist would follow Aristotle's ancient Greek science today, Aristotle nevertheless had some profound things to say about the scientific enterprise. He was a philosophical realist, meaning that he was convinced that plants and animals were really there, outside of our minds. Some philosophers today are not so sure, and that's the problem. It's hard to make sense of the world without a real world to make sense of.
As my colleague and friend points out, Aristotle's insights, enriched (and surpassed) by the Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas in the middle ages, can help ordinary people in their daily quest for "the good life." The modern age, Machuga writes, has mistakenly focused on promoting "values" (which frequently clash). Aristotle and Aquinas emphasized the virtues, those habits of life that lead to genuine flourishing for all humans.
The question of God dominates the final chapters (all of which feature lucid summaries and extensive notes for those who want to dig deeper). "Philosophical realism," Machuga writes, "is inherently theistic." But if God exists, why is there evil? The author rejects the standard free will defense since it envisions humans as autonomous creatures, a contradiction. A better answer involves "the paradoxes of omnipotence" and evil as a privation (as strange as that may sound).
Want a book to chew on? Make it this one.
The author will discuss what it means to be human at the fourth Science and Religion Conference, "Neuroscience and the Human Soul," hosted by Bidwell Presbyterian Church, tomorrow and Saturday. Details at www.bidwellpres.org.